World Europe 28 Mar 2016 Brussels attacks: Th ...

Brussels attacks: The world is at war

REUTERS | DECCAN CHRONICLE
Published Mar 28, 2016, 1:37 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2016, 1:38 am IST
The West must understand that Brussels is what winning may look like in the battle against ISIS.
Nidhi Chaphekar, a 40-year-old Jet Airways flight attendant from Mumbai, right, and another unidentified woman after being wounded in Brussels Airport terror attack. (Photo: AP)
 Nidhi Chaphekar, a 40-year-old Jet Airways flight attendant from Mumbai, right, and another unidentified woman after being wounded in Brussels Airport terror attack. (Photo: AP)

The death count from Tuesday’s separate bombing attacks in Brussels continued to climb with Belgium police reporting at least 31 dead and over 270 injured. The atrocities are tragic and unacceptable.

But the West should understand that this is what winning may look like in the battle against Islamic State. The attackers’ coordinated strikes could well stem more from a sense of weakness, than strength.

Islamic State has recently taken a series of serious hits at its power and prowess. First, and most important, its territory in Iraq and Syria — the “caliphate” that has attracted foreign fighters from around the globe — has been steadily diminishing in size over the past 15 months, and the territorial losses are escalating.

Since January 2015, the militant group has lost an estimated 22 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria — with 8 percent of those losses in 2016.

This past month, a cache of thousands of Islamic State documents was leaked to the European media. In Arabic, the documents consisted of Islamic State member forms, including such biographical information as names, ages, education, skills and whether or not the individuals were still alive.

 

Then, four days before the Brussels bombings, the supposed mastermind of the November Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam was captured in the neighborhood where he grew up in Belgium.

This combination of circumstances — severe territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, leaks of revealing documents and the capture of someone who likely knows the extent of the wider network and its future plans — may have pushed the Brussels cell to the point of panic.

True, the network’s plan had been laid out, its weapons amassed, its suicide bombers chosen. Yet the Brussels attacks may still have been a sign of a group feeling cornered and on the run.

 

For starters, law enforcement — the front line of this asymmetrical war outside of the Levant — should do exactly what it has been doing: find the perpetrators, identify the members of their wider network and seize the weapons and the persons responsible for the bombing attacks.

But the larger question of fear is at issue here. If the Brussels attacks are indeed a desperate sign of panic on the part of Islamic State, then the proper response to Brussels is not fear, but a sense of sorrow and loss. We — the public, the media, public officials and politicians — would do well not to yield to the inaccurate and inflame our sense of vulnerability and weakness.

The defensiveness of Islamic State on the run may well reap far more violence before the group’s death throes. But the West should not be deterred from keeping up its pressure on Islamic State at home and abroad.The realities of terrorism call for constant vigilance as a fact of life, and will for a long time to come. No more and no less.

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